WALKER — The Walker Police Department, which celebrated the five-year anniversary of its social media campaign Oct. 9, appears to be steadily gaining more followers on social media sites.
The department’s Facebook page has more than 12,000 followers, which exceeds the city’s population, and about 6,200 residents receive text message alerts with information about traffic accidents and incidents in the community.
Just last week, more than 700 parents signed up for the department’s school text alert system, which will notify them via text message if there is an emergency at one of the city’s seven schools, Capt. John Sharp said.
“It allows you to recreate the old beat cop relationship, where there was trust between the police department and the residents,” Sharp said of his reason for creating the department’s social media pages, which include Twitter.
He sees social media as a way for the department to help keep citizens informed and, in the process, build credibility.
Sharp started the agency’s Facebook page in October 2009 and its text-messaging alert system in January 2010. He said he created the department’s social media websites as a direct result of hurricanes Katrina and Gustav.
“We didn’t have a way of alerting people of emergencies,” he said.
Sharp, who controls everything from daily weather posts and traffic information to criminal information — and videos — said creating the sites has been a learning process.
Sharp responds to every comment posted to the site, a sometimes daunting task. But, Sharp said, responding to each post lets residents know that someone is listening to them.
“Feedback is a big part of social media,” he said.
Sharp added text-message alerts for parents of school children following a recent lockdown at the schools as law enforcement searched for a dangerous fugitive. The messages will only be sent if children, faculty or staff are in danger, he said. Sharp said since most children have cellphones, they will text parents when the schools are locked down without knowing the reason for the lockdown.
“The last thing I want around here is the roads choked up with traffic from parents trying to get their kids,” he said. “This gives parents peace of mind.”
Despite Sharp’s enthusiasm for the social media sites, which have garnered the department two awards for best social media sites for agencies their size from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Sharp said it’s the department’s duty to be very careful about what they say and don’t say on the sites.
“Everybody knows everybody out here and we can put out enough detail about the incident to ease anxiety without disclosing too much,” Sharp said.
As he continues to update and monitor the sites, Sharp, who primarily uses the sites to disseminate crucial information, plans to add new items, including a “ride-along” video with an officer to the Twitter site.
Sharp, who has a keen sense of humor, will occasionally post humorous incidents that occur in the city to the Facebook and Twitter sites. He also has used the sites to reunite lost pets with their owners, one from as far away as Prairieville. Some of the posts have received up to 250,000 views, he said.
“If you use it for the right purpose, it can be beneficial,” Sharp said.
None of the social media sites charge for the service, including Nixle, which provides the text-message alerts. The department began its involvement with the company as a free test site, and the company agreed to continue the free service since Sharp speaks at conferences annually and helps other agencies who may have questions about the service.
“What we’re trying to do is reach as many people as possible,” Sharp said.
Registration for text alerts is quick and easy. To sign up, users simply text 70785 to 888777, Sharp said. Users who register for the system can decide which text alerts they would like to receive, including information about schools, traffic conditions and other information. Keywords have been created for each school and can be received by calling the police department.